Murphy’s Law

Once upon a time, a wise man called Murphy, frustrated with his work and determined to find all that was wrong with the world, stated, with pithy accuracy: ‘If anything can go wrong, it will’. I present some minor variations of this law that have held true in my life with alarming consistency. 

The line you‘re in will always move at a snail’s pace

Whether I am lagging behind a trail of cars in a traffic jam, or simply queuing up for a railway ticket, I find that this rule has stood the test of time for me. In fact, I am amazed at how consistently this law asserts itself. 

But just this rule on its own is not enough. It has two very significant consequences. If I shift to the faster-moving line, my original line suddenly gets inspired to pick up pace and starts sprinting instead. This is its way of taking revenge on me for having changed my line in the first place. 

But if I don’t shift to the faster-moving line, my turn will come after four hours at the end of which the man at the counter would have gone for lunch or the traffic signal would have turned red. There is a handy phrase to describe this dilemma, which is, (paraphrasing politely): ‘You’re doomed if you do, you’re doomed if you don’t.’ 

You will remember something important that you forgot to do only many hours after you’ve left your house.

Oftentimes it has happened that the hubby and I have set out on a long drive to some scenic remote location, stopping at regular intervals only to hold hands, sing melodious ditties and refuel both the car and our hefty selves. When we’re halfway through the second stanza of the third song, it suddenly strikes me that I might have left the gas on, and that’s when the real fun starts.

After much thought and discussion, or rather much hair-tearing on the part of the worse half, we decide that it is best to return home to check on the gas. And after driving fifty kilometres back, we scramble into the kitchen to find that I had carefully turned off the knob after all, and that my precious house, contrary to all my expectations, has not crumbled into a pile of ashes. This is a good thing, but then I have to contend with the murderous looks thrown at me by the spouse who resents having driven around half the country in the space of one day. 

Any important deliveries that you have been anxiously awaiting will arrive just when you have left home

Have you run out of ammunition to cook your daily square meals? Are you biting your nails waiting for the delivery of the gas cylinder so that you may return in peace to cooking your rice and vegetables? Have no fear, for the delivery-man never turns up when he is expected. Call him, and he will state with the utmost confidence that he will arrive at your doorstep within the hour. When several hours have passed, you finally concede defeat and venture out of the house for a breath of fresh air, and that’s when the man himself turns up. As he will gladly tell you one month later when he comes the next time, he rang the bell for hours on end and eventually gave up the attempt. In truth, you know what really happened is that he was sitting outside your house and just waiting for you to leave so that he could say he had arrived when you were out. 

If you’re late getting to an important meeting/party/wedding, a million external factors will gleefully unite in their conspiracy to make you even later.

This rule is really a corollary of the oft-repeated proverb ‘Haste makes waste’. In your hurry to reach your destination, you may run into simple obstacles such as forgetting the mobile or the wallet and having to sprint back to the house to fetch it, traffic signals turning red at the precise moment that you approach them, and the ultimate factor in making a latecomer later – a broken down vehicle. The autorickshaw you were riding in would have run out of petrol or your car would be facing the mother of all breakdowns – a tyre puncture. Valuable minutes will be wasted in switching to a new auto or replacing the deflated tyre, thereby delaying you by another half-hour minimum. 

The least you can do to assuage your colleagues and friends when you do arrive at the meeting is, preface every sentence with a humble request for forgiveness. So even when you’re stating an opinion, you say, ‘‘Please accept my apologies for the delay, and I do agree that our team did a fantastic job of winning the World Cup.’ 

The book/CD/furniture item you were desperately searching for just ran out of stock.

In one corner pocket of my multi-tiered wallet, you will find, neatly folded up, a slip of paper listing items such as newly released books or movies or audio CDs that I would like to purchase. With this slip in hand, I enter a store and demand a title from the list. And almost always in this situation, there is a salesman who positively delights in informing me that he’s just run out of stock of the aforementioned item. In fact, he says, nearly rubbing his hands in glee, the last piece sold seconds before I walked into the store. 

If you’re in the bath and no-one else is at home, either the phone or the doorbell will definitely ring. 

When I am bathing, the phone and the doorbell pose as natural enemies – they don’t want me to shower in peace and I don’t want them to ring. Invariably, they do just that. 

If the phone is persistently bleating its shrill tone and I emerge from the bath dripping wet to answer it, it will stop ringing the moment my lathered hand rests on the receiver to pick it up. 

As for the doorbell, if I hurry out of the bath and scramble into my clothes in record time in an effort to open the door in time, all the while shouting ‘Coming!’, then by the time I reach the keyhole, my visitor will have disappeared. 

I have learnt my lesson, and nowadays steadfastly ignore all ringing sounds that I can hear while I am pouring mug-fuls of water on my head. 

Despite all the various combinations of Murphy’s Laws that befall me, I follow one good piece of advice that I read somewhere: ‘Smile, for tomorrow will be worse!’

Mabel

It’s early days yet, but I thought I’d post an excerpt from my Nano novel, Mabel. It is a first draft, so please overlook any obvious errors!

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Chapter  1 

Anu

Despite what people may think, I’ve never actually glimpsed a red carpet rolled out, at least not for me. 

Ramu drops me outside the gate rather than driving into the parking lot through the entrance, where people will be. He slides to a stop outside the steel gates of Traxis. I make to open the door but before that he steps out, clad in his gleaming white chauffeur’s uniform, and opens the door for me. Already a cordon of jean-clad girls and boys has gathered at the door, some staring at Ramu and his glittering cap and others goggling at the car. All this after I convinced Ma to send me in the battered Opel Astra. If I’d barged in driving the BMW, I’d have hit Page 3 before you could say ‘Eureka’. 

I set one foot out the door, but my new wedge heels trip me up. Ramu grips my elbow and helps me out. 

Aaram se, madam.’ 

Straight away I can see I’ve overdressed for the occasion. My formal dark trousers and crisp white full-sleeve shirt cast me as a penguin in a sea of macaws. Thank goodness at least I’ve left my hair open. It sways gently as I stride over to the welcoming party.

‘Miss Anushree Bannerjee?’ says a hopeful-looking girl, no older than me probably. 

‘Yes,’ I nod. The other people around her beam at me. 

‘I am Sheena. It’s so nice to finally meet you. Please, follow me.’ 

I mutter ‘it’s good to meet you too’ as she leads me up the literal red carpet that has been rolled out all the way from the reception to the gate. 

‘This is Ravi,’ she said, indicating a scrawny fellow in a lime-green tee. ‘He sits at the reception and he can show you around.’

‘I will try and get your seat as soon as possible but it may not be today you know because there are so many new employees from previous weeks who haven’t even got their machines or seats yet, so…’ 

The river of one-sided conversation flows unchecked as we walk to the reception. 

‘- and for your caffeine fix, you can always make yourself a cup of coffee at any of the tea-rooms. Unfortunately we don’t keep tea-boys on our staff so you will have to prepare your own beverages,’ she says, offering me a look that Sita must’ve given when asking the ground to swallow her up. 

So she imagines that I’ve never in my life poured my own coffee, tea or for that matter, cocktail. This is the kind of thing I’d like to have a word with Shetty Uncle about. The media rarely reports on me and when it does, it misrepresents me. Anyway, all that lies in the past. After yesterday’s debacle, I doubt Baba will allow me anywhere near Shetty Uncle and his office. For the time-being, though, it lies to my advantage to let them believe whatever’s written about me. Clearly they haven’t followed my Twitter account to get the lowdown. 

‘Sheena, you didn’t really roll out the red carpet for me, did you?’ 

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Hope you liked it! I hope to finish it soon come hell or high water.

Book Review – The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I’d read loads about The Help ever since it became a huge bestseller. Especially this article raised my curiosity about it. The author’s persistence and devotion to the book and her craft really inspired me. 

About a week back I trudged into the library, weary of finding a good book to read because the best ones are usually out. But lo and behold! The Help was just sitting right in front waiting for me to pick it up! The ignorance of the other members helped me snatch it instantly and check it out. For the next four days I read the book in every free moment. The only snag – it was a paperback book printed in font smaller than an ant’s footprints. 

I loved the book and can totally get why it has become such a big seller. The seemingly ordinary story is narrated in three viewpoints, Aibileen, Minny and Miss Skeeter. All of them narrate their stories in first person present-tense. 

In the year 1960, Aibileen and Minny are two black maids working in white households to earn their living. Aibileen works for Miss Leefolt and raises her two-year-old daughter Mae Mobley, while Miss Leefolt does little to look after her child.

I like how the dialogue of the black maids have been written out, with ‘a’ instead of ‘of’. Their narratives are full of sentences like ‘ taking care a white babies’ and ‘I seen plenty a womens’ etc. Their particular brand of colloquialism peppers the entire narrative, including phrases like ‘I done raised seventeen kids in my lifetime’ ‘taking care of your own chilluns’. 

The story starts when Miss Leefolt commissions the installation of a new bathroom in the garage for the maid, so that friends who drop in at her home are not compelled to use the guest bathroom which is used by the maid.

Minny is a fiery maid, with an acidic mouth who utters the first words that spring to her lips. Among all the maids featured, Aibileen is the quiet sensible one.

Into the maids’ life comes Miss Skeeter, a young white woman determined to write a book from the maids’ point of view and impress a publisher. By mere virtue of persistence, she contacts and gets in touch with a publisher who likes the idea.

But getting the maids to open up about their lives to a white woman is easier said than done. The whole enterprise is fraught with risk, but they plough on resolutely.

Do things change? With time they do, because we all know about Martin Luther King’s speech and its consequences.

Characters on the periphery do suffer losses but one expected more harm to befall the principal characters. She is no JK Rowling, and only the most minor of characters suffer. Minny devises a clever plan to protect the maids who share their stories with Miss Skeeter, but that would be a spoiler so I won’t reveal it here.

The end, though not unexpected, left me a little teary-eyed. But don’t mind me, because I cry easily!

Get your hands on the book and read it. I wholly recommend it. Here’s the NYT review.

Breaking Point

A long time back, I wrote a piece of flash fiction for a writing exercise set by my group Writing in India. Earlier this year I dug it out, revised it and sent it out to Liquid Imagination for their flash fiction section. Lo and behold, they accepted it!

Please check out the story Breaking Point and tell me what you think!